There’s been a lot of commentary about the language used by First Minister Humza Yousaf in private WhatsApp texts, now revealed by the UK COVID-19 inquiry hearings in Scotland. Yousaf’s comments, including calling a Scottish Labour MSP a “twat” in a discussion about a COVID briefing to MSPs, are clearly not showing the first minister’s best side. However, it’s also by no means in the same leagues of what we have come to expect from Westminster’s gutter politics.
However, any accusation that the Scottish Parliament is just as toxic as Westminster simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In Holyrood, we have a government which is built on the politics of cooperation, despite significant differences between the governing parties. Yet, the SNP and Scottish Greens manage to work together on where they can agree, and deliver real change for Scots across the country. Meanwhile in Westminster, the Tories’ warring factions cannot even agree on single items of legislation, like the current Rwanda Bill or the proposed increase of the smoking age. And that’s before we even get to certain Tory MPs being manhandled into supporting fracking during Liz Truss calamitous 50 day premiership…
That said, I do think that the first minister’s comments should make us pause for thought. If you read the manifestos of the parties of the Scottish left, the SNP, Scottish Labour and Scottish Greens, you will find a lot more in common than in opposition. Indeed, that very idea is why Nicola Sturgeon, the former First Minister brought the Scottish Greens into government. Yet, while the politics of cooperation has thrived between the nationalist left of the SNP and Scottish Greens, it has nearly died when it comes to Scottish Labour.
At the end of the last council election, party leader Anas Sarwar told The Herald that there would be no deals with the SNP. Since then, Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater told the BBC that she would be “open to conversations” about working with Scottish Labour after the next election, and the first minister told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that there was “plenty of areas” he could work on with Labour.
Perhaps what these WhatsApps really show is a need to reaffirm Scottish politics commitment to the politics of cooperation: a need for the parties which agree on so much, to stop allowing one question to stop them working together on so much more.